Fear of Falling, Part II

I noted earlier that I am a recovering aerophobic. And now I see courtesy of TPM DG this New York Observer article that Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s communications chief does not fly at all, which is an astonishing feat given the nature of modern campaigning. The whole article is dedicated to discussing how Wolfson manages to do his job without the ability to fly. Earlier in my career it occurred to me that if got a job covering the White House that I would have to deal with my fear of flying in pretty short order. I guess I wasn’t thinking creatively enough.

Now here’s one thing I find interesting. In the article it refers to Wolfson’s “now decade-long aversion to air travel.” I think Wolfson’s about my age, maybe a touch older. So if it’s been for a decade, that means he was well into adulthood — probably roughly 30 — before he developed a fear of flying. And it makes me curious what precipitated the change because this is so different from my experience.

For my part, I was basically afraid of flying from almost as early as I can remember. When I was young, it was mainly a yearly ordeal that came up every summer when we would go to Missouri to visit our family (we moved away when I was six). But I was a kid so I had no choice. Then when I was old enough to call my own shots I basically just stopped flying. That was when I was a teenager. And then I flew of my own volition I think twice in college and then that was it. I didn’t fly again until I was in my mid-30s. I still don’t do it very often. And it’s not easy. But I do it. In fact, my last flight, which was a few months ago, turned out to be that nightmare turbulence flight I’d always dreaded. (Yes, I know turbulence doesn’t make planes crash; it’s not rational.) The key moment for me was when the pilot went from saying we would be hitting turbulence, to a lot of turbulence, to ‘severe turbulence’ to ‘really severe turbulence’.

If you have no difficulty flying, the best way for me to put this into context would be to say that the moment the pilot finds the phrase ‘severe turbulence’ insufficient is not a good moment.

As it happens, this was a trip with my wife and son and my in-laws. And they’ve been flying all over the planet for forty or fifty years and they told me that was as bad as they’d ever seen. So as profoundly unpleasant as it was, I can now get on a plane with the confidence that I’ve experienced about as bad as it can get bumpiness-wise.

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